In the week leading up to Christmas my family departed on a wee city break. Firstly this was important because it was a 50th birthday present to my mum this year, but secondly, it was important because all 5 of us haven’t been away together in literally 10 years. What with my brother and dad working offshore and my being in Edinburgh for most of the year, it’s a rare occasion when we’re all together, never mind with each other’s undivided attention. This trip has also been a work in progress from over a year ago when I successfully managed to catch the golden snitch AKA tickets for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child on the West End. This blog post is going to prove to you how much my family are the biggest Harry Potter nerds out considering J.K. Rowling’s magical world managed to make it into pretty much every day of the trip. This is a pretty long one so feel free to pick and choose which parts you wanna read but anyways, this is what we got up to!
Day 1: Arriving in London, Sky Garden dinner
Not too much to tell you about this day other than our travels to London, I do love a short flight because it has all the excitement of flying without too much boredom waiting around. We booked ourselves some dinner in the gorgeous Darwin Brasserie in the Sky Garden, a botanic garden sitting at the top of a skyscraper resulting in awesome views of London. As much as I loved the lights at nighttime, the view was skewed by rainy windows so I’d maybe recommend the day time and a day with good weather (if you can hope for that) to make the most of that view. The meal was nice although we were a little disappointed that it didn’t quite live up to the hype. You’re almost paying more for the surroundings, than you are for the food, and it was super loud so not even the most enjoyable dinner environment. I had butternut squash soup and confit duck, both of which were delicious but the rest of the fam didn’t love their choices quite as much.
So this was our first proper day in the city and the nerdy little family that we are, we headed to the British Library. We first went on a tour of the building where a cute old librarian told us all of his favourite facts about the building and the “art” of library management. The British Library is also home to some pretty epic publications such as the da Vinci notebooks, original Beatles lyrics, the oldest Bibles in the world and the Magna Carta, which is all pretty cool. The British Library also currently has a Harry Potter: A History of Magic exhibition, which we obviously had to go and see. Unfortunately, you’re not allowed to take pictures so I don’t have much to show you, but I can tell you… The exhibition is structured into the subjects that Hogwarts students study at school; potions, herbology, divinity, defense against the dark arts, mystical creatures etc. The exhibition is a great blend of J.K. Rowling’s writing notes, illustrations and all things Harry Potter with real life ancient books related to the topics, so whilst Hogwarts lessons are fictional, the exhibition shows elements of history where these practices came from. I would definitely recommend this one to the magic-savvy and Potter fans.
We then headed for lunch at MEATliquor which is a burger place pretty similar to Boozy Cow, for reference. They have some awesome buffalo wings and I loved my Pinot Grinchio Christmas cocktail. Next on the agenda is a must for me if I’m in Kings Cross and that is my favourite floating bookshop, Word on the Water. Click here to read more about why I love it so much!
The evening’s plans brought us to the Harold Pinter theatre for Tony award-winning Oslo, a play about the Oslo peace accords between Israel and Palestine. I promise you that it was nowhere near as dry as that sounds, it was actually pretty funny. What the Norwegian intermediaries managed to achieve was pretty incredible, it’s such a shame that it didn’t hold. I would definitely recommend that play to sociology and history lovers.
This was probably the most full on day of the week with lots of walking around and lots of being outside in the cold, but it was also one of the best days. We got up super early to make our journey to the studios – do bear in mind it is quite a bit away from London but is 100% worth setting aside a day to do this. Since it is Christmastime, we also had the joys of the studios being themed as such and the most iconic scene for this was the Yule Ball which meant that the whole experience was very Goblet of Fire centric, which I loved as it is my favourite film. The tour starts with a video about the Making of Harry Potter and you should’ve seen my sister and I’s faces when the screen rolled up to reveal the actual door to the great hall. I literally felt like a kid at Christmas, which I basically am. Stepping into the great hall was like I had finally received that Hogwarts letter, it was so cool. You then get to look around the interior and exterior sets from the movies along with an audioguide that explains everything. There is so much to see but you can do it at your own speed, some people just power on through looking at everything once, but if you’re a Daniel you fully absorb everything there is to see, and I think that is the most effective use of your ticket money. Personal highlights include the Hogwarts bridge, getting to taste some Butterbeer (my review is the foam is better than the soda but still lovely) and the Diagon Alley. Although I have to admit when I turned the corner at the end and saw that model of Hogwarts, it literally took my breath away for a second. 12/10 would recommend.
After a wee nap, we wrapped up warm and headed to Hyde Park for London’s biggest Christmas Market. Winter Wonderland is lovely but I do think that all Christmas markets are relatively similar, it’s the same stalls and same Christmas tat available to purchase. However, my dad, brother and sister enjoyed the adrenalin of all the rollercoasters and terrifying rides on offer. Mum and I were planted safely on the ground with a cup of mulled wine in hand. We went in to the ice sculpture section which was truly freezing, it took us a long time to thaw out after a while in the freezer with the sculptures – being outside felt warm after that! The sculptures were incredible, I can’t believe the detail that they manage to get on it and I can’t believe that people spend 6 months of their year making these. For me, Christmas markets are all about the street food and London did not disappoint. I got a delicious crispy duck wrap that was 100x better than any supermarket meal deal, obviously. We also shared some marinara meatball chips which were so tasty. It surprisingly was not as heaving as I had expected it to be so we were able to comfortably walk around and take our time, it was lots of fun.
Back in my comfort zone with a double show day and thankfully lots of sitting down after the mad amount of walking the day before. We kicked off the day at the Churchill War Rooms – a collection of underground rooms from which Winston Churchill and his cabinet led the Second World War. It is a huge exhibition with an audioguide tour following through the historic rooms and a full museum looking at Churchill’s life including and around WWII. I didn’t take any pictures but it was pretty cool and a really interesting insight into his life. History fans should definitely consider a visit because there is so much to see, it’s definitely good value for money.
Our matinée adventure was heading back to the Cambridge Theatre in Covent Gardens for Matilda the Musical. I actually saw this show solo a few years ago while my parents went to the American football but I needed my mum and sis to witness the masterpiece. Plus, Tim Minchin’s writing is so witty and clever that I knew my dad and brother would love it too. Once again I was astounding by the slickness of this show, I love how cleverly the staging, lighting and music ties together to storytell. I am always amazed by the focus, vivacity and precision of the cast, in particular those kids, the choreography is just perfection for me. Our Matilda was fabulous and just made you fall in love with the story all over again.
Then finally came the time for us to witness literal magic at the Palace Theatre. As I mentioned earlier we have had these tickets for over a year now and the anticipation was killing me, even though I have read the script and knew what was going to happen, I couldn’t wait to see how they would do it. Since it opened on the West End I have known so many people to come out of the show and are only able to rave about how amazing it was so I was definitely excited. At first I hadn’t thought that I would like doing the two parts over two days but honestly I think if I had done it all at once I would’ve just been overwhelmed with amazement. This way we were able to come home from Part 1 still revelling in how ridiculously fantastic the show was and really remember each of the stand out moments in Part 1. I suppose if you hadn’t read the script it would also give you time to speculate what would happen next. I won’t tell you much more because #KeepTheSecrets but I will tell you that I’m still baffled. They make people disappear and reappear in no time at all. Even though I consider myself to be pretty theatre savvy, there are some tricks there that I honestly can’t explain in any way other than it had to be magic.
After all the excitement from the last few days, we took a much needed lie in. Once we finally got ourselves on the move, we headed over to Kensington which is wonderfully festive at this time of year. We brunched at the lovely Kensington Crêperie where I treated myself to their Christmas special – a crêpe with poached pears, almonds, milk chocolate and Chantilly cream, accompanied by mulled wine (of course, I’m addicted this time of year). So that was a good time. We then headed to the Science Museum because it’s the one museum up that end that I’ve never been to. Honestly, we were a little disappointed with it. Usually science museums are pretty fun with lots of games to play and interesting things to do, but it seemed like almost everything fun was broken and other than that the topics that they decided to dedicate areas to were not the most interesting. A pocket watch collection and Materials do not exactly scream fun to me, but hey ho we gave it a go and from now on I think I’ll be sticking to the V&A and the Natural History Museum.
Our trip was rounded off with the final part of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. I have to say that part 1 is the more exciting in terms of theatrical trickery and visuals but part 2 is the more exciting in terms of plot progression and twists. I loved the whole design of the two parts and honestly the creative team who came up with the production design are literal wizards. I love how thorough and full out they were when making this production, which I suppose is the benefits of having a huge budget, the team were able to indulge in their innovation and really go overboard with the extent of the effects. I really loved the movement choreography and the soundtrack to the piece as it felt distinctly Harry Potter-ish but in its own theatrical category, this really satisfied me as it felt like something new but still connected to what we know and love. It was nice to see this new world in which Harry, Ron and Hermione are the grown ups and parents and I’m glad this continuation felt like its own thing. The play ends up being really touching and lovely so you come away from it feeling happy and like you got closure.